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Long-Distance Caregiving

Making Your Visit Count

Silver Lining

If you handle your parents' finances, send them large, stamped, self-addressed envelopes so that they can just drop in bills and send them on to you. Better yet, get your parents on an automatic bill paying system and have their Social Security, pension, and other income checks electronically deposited.

Senior Alert

If you're visiting a sibling who takes care of your parent, be sure to schedule time so that he or she can take a break from the caregiving.

It seems like there are never enough hours in the day, especially when you visit family and try to sneak in visiting old friends. You'll need to make the most of your visit and use your sensors to pick up potential trouble. Sometimes it's very obvious that Mom has become confused, lost weight, appears depressed, or is having difficulty getting around. But many times, the changes are subtle and you have to be especially adept at picking up the clues. These questions can help you do your own mini-assessment:

  • Is mail left unopened or are newspapers piled up?
  • Are the bills being paid?
  • Is Mom or Dad ordering an excessive amount of things from catalogs, from insurance companies, or from television infomercials?
  • If Mom or Dad has been active, determine whether or not his or her activity level has remained the same. When was the last time your parent visited friends? Went out?
  • What's in the refrigerator? Spoiled food? Too little food?
  • How much does Mom repeat herself? Does she question you after you've just explained something a short while before? Does she give you the impression that she's not retaining what you say?
  • If you take a trip to the mall or a restaurant, notice if Dad's having any difficulty calculating discounts or tips, writing a check, or figuring out change, or hands over a $10 bill thinking it's a $1 bill.

Arrange physician visits around your trips. Let the doctor's office know that you'll be coming in from out of town. Many doctors will squeeze you in if they know you are traveling from out of town to be there. Even if this is a routine office visit, it's more helpful if you're there to ask questions and bring up points that your mom or dad might forget. Be sure to leave your phone number with the doctor so that he or she can call you to alert you to any changes in your parent's condition.

Cyber Seniors: Staying in Touch via Computer

Before you fall into old stereotypes about teaching old dogs new tricks, you should know that the elderly are the fastest-growing group on the Internet. (Just check out AOL's recent ads with two older ladies talking about their e-mail with their grandkids!) Get Mom and Dad a computer or WebTV (in which they can use their TV to go online for a monthly fee).

You or one of your kids could provide the training to get your parents up and running. Or get your parent to sign up for a class at the local community college or senior center. Many older folks find using the Web very exciting and informative, especially as a source of information on their health conditions. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Web site at www.aarp.org is a terrific resource. Another benefit of having a computer or WebTV is using e-mail, which is an excellent way for your parents to stay in touch with the whole family, especially Internet-savvy grandkids. You can even get them a small video cam (you'll need to buy one, too) so that they can see you every day.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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